Why do I keep getting BV?

Reviewed by Theresa H. Care Delivery Manager & Family Nurse Practitioner

Time saver 3 min read

Every year, millions of women in the U.S. develop a common vaginal infection known as bacterial vaginosis or BV. If you’re one of them, you’re well aware of how uncomfortable the symptoms can be. BV can leave your vagina feeling inflamed and irritated. In addition to these symptoms, you may also notice a grayish or off-white vaginal discharge. And, maybe worst of all – an unpleasant fishy odor down there – especially after sex.

For 50% of women who get BV, the infection comes back. And dealing with recurrent bouts of BV can be really frustrating. If you’re experiencing chronic BV, take steps to understand what factors may be causing or contributing to your infections and what your options are for treating your recurrent BV.

Who gets recurrent BV?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at some point, roughly 30% of U.S. women between the ages of 14 to 49 will develop bacterial vaginosis. Of these women, an estimated 50% will suffer recurrent or chronic infections within 12 months. Why are some women more prone to getting BV again? Honestly, no one really knows.

Medical professionals don’t fully understand why some women are more likely to develop BV or why, for some women, the infection keeps coming back.

What we do know is that every woman’s body chemistry – vagina included – is unique. Just like some women get acne or experience PMS symptoms, some women’s bodies are more sensitive and reactive when exposed to things like perfumed feminine products or a sexual partner’s unique microbiome.

Ways to reduce the risk of recurrent Bacterial Vaginosis

If you’re struggling with the symptoms of recurrent BV, learn more about the risk factors that may increase your chances of infection.

BV risk factors

  • Sex – While BV is not a sexually transmitted infection, sex can play a role in its development. During sex, a partner’s bacteria is introduced into the vaginal canal. In some cases, sex upsets the natural ratio of bacteria in the vagina and causes an infection. If you have sex, use condoms or dental dams to prevent transmission of body fluids and secretions. Creating a barrier can help reduce the risk of irritation and infection.
  • New and/or multiple sexual partners – The more bacterial strains you expose your vagina to, the more likely you are to change your vagina’s normal microbiome, which can lead to an infection.
  • Intrauterine Device (IUD) – An IUD can irritate your vaginal tissues and disrupt your vagina’s natural pH balance – making you more prone to infection.
  • Douching – Your vagina doesn’t need to be flushed out or cleaned with anything other than a gentle, hypoallergenic soap used externally.
  • Contaminated sex toys – When using sex toys, make sure to clean them with a gentle cleanser between uses.
  • Smoking cigarettes – Smoking can affect the vaginal microbiome – increasing the risk of developing BV. If you smoke, take steps to quit.

Why should I treat my chronic BV?

We get it. Dealing with recurrent BV can be maddening. You treat your BV and are feeling good – only to have the uncomfortable and annoying symptoms return a couple months later. It can seem like a losing battle. But it is important seek treatment for recurrent BV.

BV increases risk of other infections

BV is an infection and, if left untreated, it can make you more vulnerable to developing other types of infections that can negatively affect your sexual health. For example, BV has been linked to an increased risk of getting STIs like HIV, chlamydia and gonorrhea and may be associated with an increased risk of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). For these reasons, if you have BV – and especially recurrent BV – it’s a good idea to regularly screen for STIs.

BV risks for pregnant women

Additionally, if you’re pregnant and have BV, you’re at risk for premature delivery so it’s very important to talk to your medical provider about your recurrent BV and how to take care of yourself and find an effective treatment.

Treatment options for recurrent BV

To treat bacterial vaginosis, a medical provider will prescribe either an oral or vaginal suppository antibiotic. Both forms of antibiotic are effective at treating the infection. If you’re age 26 and older, it’s easy to get the online treatment you need to fight your BV infection and feel better fast.

If you end up getting BV more than four times within a 12-month period, it’s a good idea to see your healthcare provider in clinic. They may suggest additional testing or other types of treatment.